FY 13: Breaking the Hourglass: Partnerships in Remote Management Settings - The Cases of Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan (Feinstein International Center, Tufts University)

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
March 2, 2015

For full report, go to: http://fic.tufts.edu/publication-item/breaking-the-hourglass-partnerships-in-remote-management-settings-the-cases-of-syria-and-iraqi-kurdistan/


International humanitarian organizations often rely heavily on local partners in insecure environments. Despite this, there have been comparatively few attempts to examine the effectiveness of partnerships between international humanitarian organizations and local partners. This study explores these partnerships in the setting of cross-border assistance from Turkey to Syria in 2014 along with a case study of local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) engagement in Iraqi Kurdistan during and after Operation Provide Comfort. The research team used a paired sampling of international and Syrian organizations to generate qualitative data over a ten month period. Interviews with another 37 national and international organizations provided context. Issues covered in the report include best practices and recurring mistakes regarding the identification of local partners, capacity building, monitoring and evaluation, donor requirements, and donor withdrawal.


While local NGOs in Syria have the best access to beneficiaries, maintaining it often involves interaction with a variety of armed groups. Most local NGOs in Syria are comparatively new and, while they may have good operational capacity, they may often lack organizational capacity and thus less able to comply with the monitoring requirements of major donors. Some of these requirements may even place local NGOs and/or their beneficiaries at risk. The researchers found that building both the operational and organizational capacity of local NGO partners facilitates a better response in the medium term and an eventual transition in the long term. Trust between international organizations and local NGOs is essential. Many international organizations in the Syria context experience frequent turn-over which undermines trust. Local NGOs report that cash-assistance was least likely to be diverted.



• Assess willingness to accept risk and be clear about the conditions under which they would consider withdrawing funding, to build trust and open channels of communication;

• Design reporting requirements to prioritize security for both national and international actors over other considerations; and

• Coordinate with other donors to streamline and simplify requirements to reduce the burden on local partners.

International Organizations:

• Assess motivations for partnering and their capacity to partner before initiating the partnership processes;

• Assign a full time liaison to the local partner who has suitable linguistic skills and cultural competence;

• Build trust with local partners by holding regular in-person meetings to exchange information and ideas, ensuring transparency in decision-making, and establishing robust feedback mechanisms; and

• Recognize that, in the Syrian context, many local organizations are newly formed and may need additional support to understand the language, processes, and architecture of international partners and the broader humanitarian system.

Local Organizations:

• Be honest with international partners about security concerns, difficulty meeting donor requirements, and other challenges;

• Recognize the importance of core costs and salaries and communicate these needs to current and potential international partners; and

• Familiarize themselves with humanitarian principles and the ethos behind these principles.